DAY 2: Friday
After a forgettable, quick breakfast pit stop at Guy and Gallard off Park Avenue, at which we are met with that special type of gruff, New York service-with-a-scowl that has long been satirized, we head up north towards Central Park in the misty rain and revisit the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The MET seems to be busy at all times of the day and Friday morning is no exception. After battling our way through fellow tourists, we take quiet refuge upstairs in the Modern Art wing, pondering the works of Mark Rothko and Roy Lichtenstein along the way. After an obligatory stroll through the Egyptian wing to admire the various sarcophagi and The Temple of Dendur, we take the 6 train down to Chinatown for lunch.
We’re on a mission for hand-pulled noodles and that means trudging through Chinatown in the blinding rain, to the Lower East Side, passing a strip of Chinatown bus stations advertising routes to Raleigh until we stumble upon a nondescript sidewalk placard identifying Lam Zhou noodles. You seat yourself at Lam Zhou and look up to a banana yellow menu plastered against the wall when a dumpling folder begrudgingly emerges from the open kitchen hallway in the back. She impatiently prompts us to order with a indifferent glare and we quickly decide on a bowl of beef brisket and pork bone noodles. At $6 and $7 respectively for both, it’s a steal and we can’t resist to not order five dumplings for $2. I wince a little with guilt after reveling in the cheap cost, thinking of the recent article from The Washington Post that I had just read about how Chinese restaurant immigrant owners are switching to running sushi restaurants because it makes for a better standard of living. The thought quickly dissipates by a distinct sound.
The noodle chef in the back is violently slapping the wheat flour dough against the marble countertop, loosening the gluten to make the hand-pulled noodles. We soon enjoy the fruits of his very hard labor as we sink our spoons into wells of the beef and pork broth and use our chopsticks to pinch up the bouncy, hand-pulled noodles. The beef brisket is nothing too fancy, but it tastes just like something that would come out of Mom’s kitchen. The soft, boiled dumplings are pursed with minced pork, pleated tightly and beg for a douse of chili oil and soy sauce.
We peruse the newly-renovated SoHo Uniqlo (what exactly changed?) and move on to the next epicurean mission: a visit to the Dominique Ansel Bakery, the home of the world-famous Cronut. We take the sojourn out to the patisserie and step in, only to find that the signature item, the Cronut, is long sold-out by 4 p.m.. A rookie mistake for sure, but we settle on the Paris-New York sweet pastry and the cookie shot as substitutes for our “misfortune”.
The Paris-New York, a modern twist on the famous Paris-Brest dessert, is a sight to behold. Aesthetically, it is almost too beautiful to eat from its gilded platter. The circular-shaped choux pastry is oozing with a chocolate, peanut butter and caramel filling complete with delicate dollops adorning the top. The cookie shot looks almost comically brutish sitting next to the daintiness of the Paris-New York. A cylindrical-shaped chocolate chip cookie filled with a creamy Tahitian vanilla bean milk, it is a sweet treat to be savored slowly despite its impudent name. The chocolate chip cookie is dense and chewy, and not too sweet. I feel a bit silly as I eat it, knowing that it’s a bit of a gimmick and a follow-up to the smashing success of the Cronut, but I can’t deny that it’s pretty damn good. I tell myself that sometimes it’s okay to let go, and indulge in the whimsy–it is a bakery after all.
After drying out in the hotel, we take a trip out to the East Village, to David Chang’s Momofuku Ssäm, the restaurant choice of my beloved husband. We visit at an opportune time at the close of September, right before Momofuku Ssäm temporarily closes in October for renovation. Ssäm doesn’t take reservations for two, and surprisingly, when we waltz in at 9 p.m. with our rain jackets in tow, we are seated immediately at the bar. We saddle up the bar, and I take curious note of how uncomfortable the heavy, cumbersome stools really are, something I had read about on Eater previously. If you have a bony backside, you might be screwed. Chang must want you to eat, and eat well, but maybe not linger too long afterwards.
The restaurant is jam packed–a boisterous large young-ish party of 20 is seated behind us, obviously celebrating a special occasion. Under the reddish din of the overhead lights, the bartenders swivel in and out of behind the confines of the long bar that stretches down most of the dining space, greeting new patrons, taking orders and making recommendations in between mixing cocktails.
We are greeted warmly by the t-shirt clad bartender who takes our beer order succinctly as I stare at the John McEnroe shrine behind the cabinet of liquor bottles. The friendliness, frankly, takes me by surprise, since I don’t expect it at places like Ssäm, where it’s cloyingly casual with a definitive hipster slant that doesn’t always guarantee great service. I’m hardcore craving vegetables to assuage my carnivorous guilt from earlier in the day so we go “light” and opt for the mason jar kimchi and the heirloom tomatoes and plums.
The kimchi in a mason jar ($5) is a cute Southern-ish spin on the Korean staple: it’s aggressively spicy (in a good way), and a kickstart to what’s to come later. The heirloom tomatoes and plums ($15) tempers the fiery heat–a beautifully composed array of heirloom tomatoes and plums cascaded around the plate, set in a delicate, almost cloud-like buttermilk and luminous shiro dashi. If there are two dishes juxtaposed to represent “fire and ice”, this may be it.
We spring for the pan-roasted duck ($27), and we are rewarded with one of the best duck dishes that I’ve tried, perhaps ever. The slices of duck are tender, at medium rare, moist and full of unctuous flavor. Slivers of mango give the dish a sour, fruity component but even this is upstaged by a curry potato croquette that boosts its savoriness. My husband declares that the duck confit that he had at New Orleans’s Sylvain restaurant is still the best duck that he has ever tasted, moments later after a few bites of this dish, and I scoff at that notion all while letting a piece of duck dissolve on my tongue.
We sadly forgo dessert (no Christina Tosi confections tonight), a little too full and perhaps buzzed and tired, and retreat back to our hotel room, in preparation for our last day in NYC.